Connect with us

Star Blog

How The Cowboys Can “Modernize” Their Offense

Kevin Brady

Published

on

Dallas Cowboys 2019 Training Camp: Top 5 Storylines to Follow
Smiley N. Pool/The Dallas Morning News

If there's one thing the national football world seemed to agree on last season, it's that Scott Linehan's offense had grown "stale."

After starting the Dak Prescott/Scott Linehan era off fast, with one of the league's best offenses in 2016 leading them to a 13-3 record, Dallas quickly fell down those offensive leaderboards. As pieces on the offensive line were forced to shuffle due to free agency, injury, or illness and Ezekiel Elliott faced suspension, the Cowboys offense sputtered during '17 and '18.

Though the Amari Cooper trade gave the unit a quick boost of energy en route to a division title a year ago, the Cowboys offense still seemed behind the curve when compared to the rest of the league.

Jerry Jones decided to fire offensive coordinator Scott Linehan this offseason, moving on from that "stale" offensive system. The man hired to replace Linehan? First year OC, and former backup quarterback in Dallas, Kellen Moore.

Much has been made about the hiring of Kellen Moore. Some believe he will be the one to bring much needed modern elements to the Cowboys offense, helping them compete with the loads of firepower around the NFC. Others see this as more of the same, as Jason Garrett is still the one ultimately in charge at The Star.

I decided to take a closer look at the Cowboys offensive efficiency numbers over the last three seasons to pinpoint exactly where they can improve. I also watched a bit of Kellen Moore from his quarterback days at Boise State, to see what aspects of that elite college offense he may look to incorporate with his new professional offense. The results were far from surprising, though they were certainly enlightening as we head into this 2019 campaign.

Play Action Passing

If you're on NFL Twitter as much as I am, you're probably sick of reading about play action passing. Analysts have been using the term as a sort of quick-fix for a struggling passing offense, pointing to the efficiency numbers of teams that do it well, such as the Los Angeles Rams.

The bottom line is, you need to have an efficient passing game to win in the NFL. And it's hard to be more efficient through the air than the Cowboys have been in their play action passing game.

Let's start back. In 2016, Dak Prescott dazzled all year long to earn himself Rookie of the Year honors. His best full season to date, Prescott immediately put himself into the conversation with top two picks Jared Goff and Carson Wentz for who will be the best young quarterback in that 2016 class. But, then, in 2017 things went a bit sour for Prescott, and stayed that way until Amari Cooper joined the Cowboys midway through the 2018 season.

While injuries, suspensions, and regression can all explain what has happened to the Cowboys passing offense since that miraculous rookie year, play action passing rate might do a better job than any of them. In 2016 the Cowboys finished with a 24% play action rate, placing them 3rd in the NFL in terms of usage. They averaged 9 yards per play on play action passes, with a DVOA of 45.8%. They were really good at it, and compared to the rest of the league, they did it a lot.

As play action rates around the league rose, however, the Cowboys stayed the same. They went from efficient and "smart" in 2016, their best offensive year with Dak Prescott, to outdated and stale. And they did so quickly.Neutral Perspective: Dak Prescott is NOT a 1-Man Army

In 2017 Dallas used play action just 22% of the time. While not a big dropoff from a season ago, they fell in the league rankings from 3rd to 19th. And while they remained a positive passing team in terms of DVOA overall, their passing efficiently rose 19.8% when using play action as compared to standard drop-back passing.

Then, in 2018, the Cowboys were once again in the middle of the pack in terms of play action rate at 25%. Despite their relatively low usage to the elite teams around the league, the Cowboys were 10th in play action passing DVOA. When they didn't use play action and decided to use the traditional drop-back passing, they were 27th in DVOA. In terms of DVOA differential, Dallas had the 5th biggest drop-off in the league, and were +37.7% when using play action.

In other words, the Cowboys were really good passing the ball after the play fake. Yet, for whatever reason, they didn't utilize it nearly enough last season.

If they are going to become "modern" or "cutting edge," they should be joining teams like the Rams, Eagles, and Patriots at the top of the play action rate leaderboards. Especially when the data suggests there are no diminishing returns with increased play action usage.

So, this would suggest the Cowboys have to pay Ezekiel Elliott, right?

Well, not exactly.


As discussed by Ben Baldwin in this Football Outsiders article, no relationship between rushing frequency or success and play action passing success has been found. Running the football does not set up more successful play action passes, despite what traditional football knowledge would suggest.

You can run and succeed at play action pass plays without running the football well, or much at all.

Pre-Snap Motion

Ah, another favorite term of NFL nerd Twitter, pre-snap motion. As a former college offensive lineman (yeah, division three, whatever) the infatuation with pre-snap motion at the NFL level is sort of funny to me.

At the high school and college levels, pre-snap motion is used all the time. I can't even count how many pre-snap flops or shifts, jet motions, sprint motions, fly motions/sweeps, etc. get used on a daily basis at practice. So how come the NFL is so far behind these lower levels of football?

Well, to be honest, they tend to be behind more often than not. But that's besides the point.

In 2018 the Cowboys used pre-snap motion 31% of the time, ranking 24th in the NFL according to Sports Info Solutions. New quarterbacks coach Jon Kitna, however, spoke to The Ringer about changing that in 2019.

“We want to spread it out and make the defense have to cover the full field,” Kitna says. “We’re going to try to use formations and shifts and movements to our advantage. I think a lot of people have that idea coming in, but we’re going to emphasize that.” - Jon Kitna

Incorporating more motions would be huge for the Cowboys offense. These motions can create that space Kitna is speaking to, especially considering how often opposing defenses will use man coverage against the Cowboys.

Everything you do as an offense should be done to put the defense in a bind. Make the defense choose between two bad options on every snap. Not only do motions indicate opposing coverages pre-snap, but when combined with stack and bunch formations and a variety of splits they also often force defenses to choose between two bad options.

Putting It Together

What would an offense like this look like? Let's take a look at Kellen Moore's college days for a couple examples.

Streamable - free video publishing

Check out this video on Streamable using your phone, tablet or desktop.

On this play above, the Broncos bring their tight end in motion across the formation. Kellen Moore snaps the ball as the tight end reaches the outside shoulder of the tackle. Then, they use both the play action fake and the motioned tight end to draw the defenders' eyes into the backfield/flats.

The hesitation from the linebackers and safeties gives Kellen the chance to take a deep shot down the field for a huge completion and a touchdown.

Streamable - free video publishing

Check out this video on Streamable using your phone, tablet or desktop.

Here's another example of Kellen Moore executing a touchdown pass off play action. This time, it's a wide receiver who goes in motion across the formation until he gets outside the far hash. The defense is forced to indicate their coverage because of the motion, so Kellen Moore knows exactly what look they are giving pre-snap.

The play action fake draws the linebackers up further towards the line of scrimmage, and Moore drops it over there heads to the previously motioned receiver for a touchdown.

Honestly, the plays themselves shouldn't be all that different. It's about dressing the packaging up in unique ways while still running the same base type plays they've always run. Every team runs inside and outside zone. Some do it better than others, though, and a lot of that has to do with the packaging.

The Cowboys can still, if they must, "establish the run." They can just do so in ways that keep the defense guessing, rather than pounding their heads against the wall against unfavorable box counts.

It's not about trick plays or gadgets, it's about creativity and variety.


Die-hard Cowboys fan from the Northeast, so you know I am here to defend the 'boys whenever necessary. Began writing for a WordPress Cowboys Blog, and have been with ITS since 2016.

Advertisement
Comments

Star Blog

Cowboys en Español: Mitos y Verdades en Dallas, Adiós Taco Charlton

Mauricio Rodriguez

Published

on

Taco Charlton

El ala defensiva producto de la universidad de Michigan, Taco Charlton, fue seleccionado en la primera ronda del NFL Draft 2017 por los Dallas Cowboys para la sorpresa de muchos. Con jugadores como T.J. Watt y Kevin King en la tabla, muchos esperaban que Stephen Jones y compañía tomaran una ruta diferente. Sin embargo, Rod Marinelli logró influir la selección del equipo y Charlton recibió la llamada. Desde ese momento, se convirtió en un jugador altamente debatido entre los aficionados y analistas de Dallas.

El 2019 es la tercera temporada de Charlton en la NFL y tras estar inactivo en las primeras dos semanas, los Cowboys lo dejaron ir. El motivo por el que Taco estuvo inactivo no era su salud, sino el hecho de que los coaches no lo vieron como uno de los mejores linieros defensivos. Se ha especulado por mucho tiempo sobre la relación entre Marinelli y Charlton, después de que algunos comentarios del coach y algunos directivos nos hicieron dudar sobre su ética de trabajo y su compromiso al equipo.

Según reportes de Jane Slater, Charlton solicitó al equipo un trade hace unos meses, cosa que los Cowboys no consiguieron con ningún equipo y por tanto resultó cortando al defensivo antes de la semana 3 de la temporada. Las cosas se "calentaron" después de que Charlton publicó en redes sociales "Free me." Gran parte por su corte es el regreso del defensivo Robert Quinn, quien estuvo suspendido las primeras dos semanas.

El domingo, Charlton enfrentará a su ex-equipo vistiendo los colores de los Miami Dolphins, mientras que Quinn hace lo mismo pero vistiendo el uniforme de los Dallas Cowboys. En Cowboys en Español, le deseamos éxito a Taco Charlton en su nuevo equipo.

Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott Should be rid of all Rust

Mitos y Verdades

Con dos semanas de acción de los Dallas Cowboys, hemos visto y escuchado todo tipo de conclusiones. Algunas parecen ser una exageración, mientras otras tienen todo el sentido del mundo. Por eso es que hoy nos aventuramos a unas cuantas declaraciones comunes sobre el equipo y determinamos cuales son mitos y cuales son verdades...

Debido a la alta producción del juego aéreo en la ofensiva de Kellen Moore, muchos han pasado por alto el trabajo del corredor Ezekiel Elliott. Anteriormente, hemos visto un equipo de los Cowboys que se enfocaba principalmente en el juego terrestre y ahora no parece ser el caso.

Sin embargo, Elliott ha tenido un impacto importante. De hecho, después de dos juegos cuenta con el mejor inicio de su carrera. Hasta el momento ha acumulado 164 yardas en 36 acarreos. Su mejor marca en los primeros dos juegos de toda su carrera.

Veredicto: MITO. 

  • Michael Gallup es cosa seria

Las expectativas eran altas para el receptor de segundo año, Michael Gallup. Se esperaba que su rol incrementara drásticamente después de un 2018 que cerró con una participación importante. En training camp fue dominante y por fin lo pudo demostrar en el emparrillado.


A pesar de que tendrá que recuperarse de lesión, Gallup ha demostrado que la emoción que lo rodea es completamente real.

Veredicto: VERDAD. 

  • El interior de la línea defensiva podría ser un problema

Hasta el momento, una de las mayores decepciones ha sido la selección de segunda ronda de los Cowboys, Trysten Hill. El tackle defensivo de Central Florida ha estado en la lista de inactivos durante las primeras dos semanas.

Antwaun Woods sufrió una lesión contra los Washington Redskins que no parece muy seria. Sin embargo, no hemos visto mucha calidad por parte de los tackles defensivos. Hasta el momento, no hemos visto una dupla de titulares que nos hagan sentir mejor respecto la posición.

Veredicto: VERDAD

  • Somos un equipo pasador

Tras dos semanas, parece que este es el caso. Habiendo dicho eso, no estaré convencido de que la ofensiva mantendrá un nivel tan agresivo en el juego aéreo hasta que vea el mismo plan de juego coontra rivales más fuertes. Kellen Moore ha hecho todo bien por ahora, pero tengo muchas ganas de verlo en un escenario con más presión.

¿Volverá en un punto a depender del juego terrestre o seguirán apostando por Dak Prescott y el juego aéreo? Ya veremos.

Veredicto: VERDAD por ahora, por definir...

Tell me what you think about "Cowboys en Español: Mitos y Verdades en Dallas, Adiós Taco Charlton" in the comments below, or tweet me @MauNFL and let’s talk football! If you like football and are looking for a Dallas Cowboys show in Spanish, don’t miss my weekly Facebook Live! show, Primero Cowboys!


Continue Reading

Star Blog

NFC East Weekly: Giants Change QBs, Eagles Take First Loss

Jess Haynie

Published

on

Daniel Jones, Eli Manning, Giants

While we always have plenty to talk about when it comes to the Dallas Cowboys, it's never a bad idea to look around our division and see what's happening with the rivals. This is the first is a new weekly feature on Inside The Star where we'll talk about the major happenings in the NFC East, and especially what they mean for the good guys.

Before we get into the headlines, though, here's a quick glace at the current standings for the division after Week 2 of the 2019 season:

  1. Dallas Cowboys 2-0 (2-0 vs division)
  2. Philadelphia Eagles 1-1 (1-0 vs division)
  3. New York Giants 0-2 (0-1 vs division)
  4. Washington Redskins 0-2 (0-2 vs division)

The Cowboys have started off the season in grand fashion, picking up two division wins against the Giants and Redskins. It's an incredible foundation from which to continue through 2019, and one that they will hopefully build on this week against the tanking Miami Dolphins.

Those division wins could be crucial this year if the Eagles live up to expectations. Despite the loss last week in Atlanta, Philly should still be right there in the end and the NFC East crown may come down that tie-breaking record against division opponents.

If these two weeks have shown us anything, it's that all projections of 2019 being a two-horse race between Dallas and Philadelphia were spot on. New York is as bad as most thought they'd be, and any thoughts of Washington being a plucky underdog are about gone now.

In fact, it only took two weeks for the Giants to throw in the towel and name rookie Daniel Jones their starting quarterback.

Eli Manning, New York Giants

New York Giants QB Eli Manning

End of the Eli Era

Remember this offseason when Giants' General Manager Dave Gettleman said that Eli Manning "had plenty left" going into 2019? Apparently it ran out fast, and it only took two losses for New York to promote Daniel Jones and effectively end Manning's run with the Giants. He had been the full-time starter since 2005.

Assuming that an injury or a total management meltdown don't lead to Eli being renamed as the starter, Jones will get six games under his belt before the rematch with the Cowboys in Week 9. The rookie gets a few soft opponents in Tampa Bay and Washington to start his career, but then it toughens up quickly with Minnesota and New England in Weeks 5 and 6.

Taking my Cowboys glasses off for a second, I actually am rooting for this kid. Daniel Jones was one the most maligned draft picks I've ever seen, basically declared a bust before he even had time to hug the commissioner on stage. On a purely human level, I'd like to see him prove people wrong.

We'll have plenty of time to look at Jones in the weeks and years to come. But before we change topics, I wanted to quickly reflect on the end of the Eli Era.

It was hard as a Dallas fan to watch Manning's success with two Super Bowl wins. Other than physical durability, there was nothing about Eli's game that made you think he was better than our own Tony Romo.


But happenstance is what makes the NFL work so well. It's why Week 1 in the NFL means more than the middle rounds of the NBA Playoffs; unpredictable outcomes make for greatest excitement and intrigue. The best teams and players don't always win, because single-elimination games and even single plays within can change history.

The bottom line is that "ifs" don't make legacies or Hall of Fame resumes. Like Batman said to Rachel Dawes, "it's what I do that defines me." Eli Manning won two championships against the greatest coach & QB combo of the last two decades. He kept his team relevant in the most competitive division in football more years than not.

If he doesn't make it into Canton then I won't think it's a tragedy. But if it does, it's absolutely deserved.

Carson Wentz, Eagles

Philadelphia Eagles QB Carson Wentz

Eagles Lose 1st of 2019

Philadelphia fell behind a little in the race with Dallas by dropping their first game of the season, losing on the road against the Atlanta Falcons last Sunday. A late touchdown by Julio Jones on 4th-down stole the game away from the Eagles.

All losses hurt in the NFL but this one wasn't too damaging. The record against NFC opponents is more relevant to Wild Card races than divisions crowns.

But for two weeks at least, the Cowboys have looked like the better team. They beat the Redskins by a wider margin on Sunday than the Eagles did, and that was even with the game being in Washington.

This week could allow the divide to increase. The Eagles will host the Detroit Lions, who have yet to lose a game this year (they finished Week 1 with a tie) while Dallas gets the league's worst team in Miami.

Also concerning coming out of the loss in Atlanta was that Carson Wentz had to leave the game, albeit briefly, after the NFL's medical spotter called for him to be examined for a concussion. Wentz has since stated that he was fine and the exam was unnecessary.

Even if the concussion exam was overzealous, the fact remains that Wentz was taking some big hits throughout that game. Given his history, one has to wonder if he can make it through the season without some better protection or more efforts to avoid contact.

Until he proves otherwise, Carson is going to be seen as injury prone. It's a fear that Eagles fans keep deep down, in places they don't like to talk about at parties or on Twitter, but it's there.

But if Philly slips up again this week against the Lions, especially with Dallas likely improving to 3-0, then a much more present and potent fear could start to take hold.


Continue Reading

Star Blog

Football Focus: How Things Have Changed In First Two Weeks of the Season

Mauricio Rodriguez

Published

on

Football Focus: How Things Have Changed In First Two Weeks of the Season

Only two weeks have gone by in the 2019 NFL regular season and the landscape already looks completely different. The league is always unpredictable, but it seems to me this year things have changed way too much from what we expected to see out of many teams. Injuries will reshape how division standings look once it's all said and done. Allow me to be specific:

  • One of the strongest Super Bowl contenders this season are the New Orleans Saints. On week 2, QB Drew Brees sustained a thumb injury that will knock him out for six weeks of action. I don't believe the Saints chances of making the playoffs are gone, though. The Saints' division rivals haven't looked strong and Teddy Bridgewater might be one of the best backups in the NFL. Winning a handful of games will keep them in the race. Even still, the Brees injury is a heavy blow for Sean Payton's team.
  • As a football fan, this one hurts quite a bit. Ben Roethlisberger suffered another injury and this one looks pretty real. It was a non-contact elbow injury that will require surgery. The Steelers will be led by Mason Rudolph, who didn't look bad last week when taking over. However, the Pittsburgh Steelers could've been considered contenders if Big Ben was in the lineup. With Rudolph, I don't see it happening. Not to mention, it would be devastating if this how Roethlisberger's career ends. I hope he comes back. The two-time Super Bowl champion is one of the best we've seen in this "era." Right now, the AFC North might be between the Cleveland Browns and the Baltimore Ravens.
  • The Jacksonville Jaguars talented defense will likely go to waste after Nick Foles broke his clavicle. Foles was one of the players that intrigued me the most going into the season. Is he a good quarterback that got off to a slow start? Or did he just ball out in a single postseason and isn't really that good? I frankly don't know, and we could've found out had he had the chance to play a full season. Now, it'd be a surprise if the Jaguars manage to be competitive in the AFC South.
  • Speaking of the AFC South, this one isn't as "new," but let's not forget who was supposed to start at quarterback for the Indianapolis Colts. After having a monster season in 2018, Andrew Luck was supposed to lead his team to the postseason again. His unexpected retirement has led to Jacoby Brissett starting and although he's not bad, he's no Andrew Luck. Yet another team that we expected to be a contender that has taken a heavy blow.

Injuries will always suck. Football is a great sport, but you hate to see these players and teams miss out on opportunities due to an injury. At the same time, great players' careers have started because of injuries to other players. It is what it is. And even if it sounds like a cliché, next man up is the philosophy of the sport.

Cowboys Blog - 5 Bold Predictions: Conference Championship Edition 2

Carolina Panthers QB Cam Newton (Streeter Lecka / Getty Images)

Three-And-Out: 3 Quick Thoughts

  • How early is it too early to say Cam Newton is done? The Carolina Panthers quarterback was at his worst last Thursday when his team fell to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Newton has lost eight straight games as a starter. Per PFF's Steve Palazzolo, 34.2% of Newton's passes were uncatchable (most in the league). He is simply hasn't been the same since his MVP season in 2015. If the Panthers were to release him after this season, they'd only have $2M in dead money. I'd certainly think about moving on.
  • The Chicago Bears should be 0-2. They got a last-second win against the Denver Broncos on Sunday but they didn't look like a winning team. With one of the league's top defenses, they were seen as one of the main contenders in the NFC this season. After two weeks, they might be the most disappointing team in the entire NFL. Mitchell Trubisky's offense is just not good. And it won't be easy to fix it. Right now, the Green Bay Packers and the Minnesota Vikings are the best teams in the NFC North. Let's see if they can turn things around.
  • The New York Giants are handing Daniel Jones the starting job. That's the correct call. Although Eli Manning has a lot of history there, he isn't playing good football. Giving a chance to your sixth overall pick is the right thing to do for your team. It almost would've been disrespectful to the players not to start him.

Player of the Week: WR Cooper Kupp, L.A. Rams

Kupp finished week 2 with five receptions, 120 yards and one touchdown. But with a simply amazing play that put the game away as the Rams emerged victorious over the Saints, he's earned my player of the week. In case you missed his 66-yard reception, here it is. Outstanding effort.


https://twitter.com/NFL/status/1173374883146809344

Underdog of the Week: Detroit Lions

The Los Angeles Chargers were the favorites over the Detroit Lions despite dealing with plenty of important injuries. In an ugly game, the Lions took advantage of that. It was a low-scoring matchup that was defined in a couple of plays. After starting off with two interceptions, Matthew Stafford threw a 31-yard TD to Kenny Golladay in the fourth quarter. After that, CB Darius Slay secured the win when it all could've gone wrong for the Lions with 1:10 left on the clock. The Lions are kind of undefeated. They're 1-0-1. in the season.

Football Focus: How Things Have Changed In First Two Weeks of the Season 1

College Football Corner: LSU Finally Has an Offense

The LSU Tigers always have a strong defense. This time around, they've seemed to nail the offensive side of things too. It's almost a yearly narrative that the Tigers will finally have an offense that works before we find out that's not the case. But in 2019, it's real. QB Joe Burrow has looked unbelievable on the team's new spread offense. He has completed 83% of his passes for 1,122 yards, 11 touchdowns and only two interceptions. He's officially a Heisman candidate. They've already beaten the Texas Longhorns and are set to face stronger opponents in October. I can't wait to see them play Alabama in November.

Tell me what you think about "Football Focus: How Things Have Changed In First Two Weeks of the Season" in the comments below, or tweet me @MauNFL and let’s talk football! If you like football and are looking for a Dallas Cowboys show in Spanish, don’t miss my weekly Facebook Live! show, Primero Cowboys!


Continue Reading
Cowboys News App - Sidebar Large Block



Enjoy 40% commissions on officially licensed products as a FanPrint affiliate. You can even make your own, fully licensed Cowboys and player designs! Get started here

Trending